Seven years ago, renowned ultralight hiker/backpacker Andrew Skurka appeared at The Sports Lure to promote his then-newly published book, “The Ultimate Hiker’s Gear Guide.” While I found his presentation intriguing, and even jotted down some of his tips and tricks for future implementation, by and large I determined that Mr. Skurka had tossed out far too many creature comforts for my liking. When I led him on a hike around Stone Mountain the following day, I had half a mind to tell him as much but opted to keep my mouth shut. After all, National Geographic had just published his book.
My annual girls Cloud Peak Wilderness backpacking trip was modified many times over the past 10 months. Last fall, the four of us decided we would celebrate our fifth-annual trip by doing something different. Ultimately, we agreed on a July river rafting trip in Idaho. Come January of this year, we scrapped that plan and refocused on the Bighorns. Over the following months we proceeded to make four different trip plans, all of which were thrown out for various reasons.
Having eventually settled on going to Twin Lakes over Labor Day weekend, by late August we were excitedly making our final plans. Three days before our departure we checked the weather and reluctantly realized we’d have to change our plan yet again. Back at the drawing board, we contemplated all of our options including taking a road trip south to warmer weather. After an hour of discussing the pluses and minuses of every idea, we landed on car-camping, day-hiking and kayaking in our very own Bighorns.
All four of us felt a twinge of relief knowing we wouldn’t be hiking miles of trail donning 40-pound packs for four days. This was going to be so much easier than the past four trips we had taken. When we started talking through a revised meal plan, which vehicles (yes, multiple) to take and who had firewood and roasting sticks on hand, we should have realized what we’d be leaving behind — simplicity.
In years past, we have taken only what we could fit into our backpacks and nothing more. Although Andrew would say we have always taken too much, we’ve felt good about our packing lists. Four women and four packs have easily traveled to the trailheads in one vehicle. This year the load wasn’t nearly as light.
Knowing we could take whatever we wanted, and not wanting to forget anything, we really outdid ourselves. We filled two SUVs to the brim and topped them off with four kayaks. Four large crates, four duffel bags, four comfy camp chairs, three sizable coolers, three open bags of groceries, two camp tables, a tarp full of firewood, a canopy tent and an eight-person tent we affectionately called “the condo” spilled out into the campsite we claimed. We had a lot to keep track of.
Right off the bat we discovered that the valve cover was missing to one of the plush air mattress we had brought. That was remarkably inconvenient. Cooking over the campfire also presented some unforeseen challenges including waiting for the fire to make coals, burning the bottom of whatever we had in the dutch oven, and dropping steak into the ashes.
Don’t get me wrong, there were many things that made this trip equally as wonderful as the previous four. Taking our boats and having time on the water was perhaps the best addition. Having a campfire every evening and morning wasn’t so shabby either. And, I personally was delighted that we all slept together in one tent, ate some new meals and I got to wear my slippers around camp.
Just like in years past, we cherished our time together, strengthened our bonds, shared belly laughs as well as tears, brainstormed big ideas, explored new areas of the CPW, captured some incredible photos and returned home with a sense of accomplishment and rejuvenation. Am I disappointed that we didn’t backpack this year? Absolutely not. I am confident that next summer I will appreciate the simplicity and miss the campfire equally.
Julie Greer is a member of the Wyoming State Parks and Cultural Resources Commission.